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BERLIN — Sabine Lisicki’s has been the Cinderella story of this year’s Wimbledon.
The 23-year-old German player, ranked 24th in the world, had the upset of the tournament in the opening rounds, beating defending champion and favorite Serena Williams in three sets. On Thursday, the Berlin-born blonde with a serve so powerful that fans call her “Boom Boom,” came back from a 3-0 deficit in her third set to defeat Polish player Agnieszka Radwanska, the world’s No. 4, to become the first German to compete in the finals at Wimbledon since seven-time winner Steffi Graf back in 1999.
It’s the kind of come-from-behind, underdog narrative that sports fans love, and Saturday’s final on German TV would be a guaranteed ratings magnet. But there’s one problem: 21st Century Fox’s satellite TV service Sky Deutschland has exclusive rights to the world’s top tennis tournament.
With just 3.4 million subscribers, Sky is a minnow compared to Germany’s big free-to-air channels, which reach more than 60 million homes across the country. The ratings for Sky’s Wimbledon coverage has been comparatively small. Just 77,000 fans watched Lisicki defeat Williams, and some 140,000 tuned in on Monday when Germany’s top male player, Tommy Haas, went down against the world’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
But Lisicki’s semi-final win pulled a, for Sky, impressive 230,000 viewers, 3.1 percent of the key 14-49 demographic.
Sky picked up the exclusive German rights to Wimbledon in a three-year-deal in 2010, making it the only one of the tennis grand slam tournaments not to air on German free-TV (the U.S., French and Australian Opens all air on free-to-air Eurosport). At the time, it wasn’t seen as much of a loss. The glory years of German tennis, when Graf and Boris Becker regularly dominated Wimbledon’s center court, seemed long gone.
Lisicki has changed all of that. Her come-from-behind wins have ignited a tennis fever in Germany not seen for 20 years. Her historic win on Thursday was front-page news across the country. Late Thursday night, German public broadcaster ARD made an 11th hour appeal to Sky to buy the rights to the woman’s final, Sky confirmed to German tabloid Bild. But, according to the paper, the offer wasn’t good enough. ARD has declined to comment.
Sky’s current deal for the the German Wimbledon TV rights ends with Sunday’s final match day. A new three-year deal is then up for grabs.
While Saturday‘s final will be one for the German history books, it will likely also go down in Germany as one of the least-watched Wimbledon finals of all times.
But, should she win, the negotiations for the 2014 Wimbledon rights will be an epic battle of their own.
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